Christmas markets

 

Christmas markets are a relatively young Italian tradition dating back to the 1980s. They are an established one in the neighboring German-speaking countries though, and that’s what inspired various northern Italian cities to create something similar. The first and still the larger ones, with about one hundred stalls each, are in Bolzano (Bozen) and Trento – their success and the number of visitors they attract even from many hundreds of kilometers away spurred in turn the appearance of similar Christmas markets in many other towns.

Today you can find such charming temporary street markets in all the major towns in the north of Italy, and the tradition is spreading southward year after year. The one thing they all have in common are the dates. Christmas markets are erected on the last week of November and they last through new year’s eve – and in some cases up to January 6th, the day of the Befana, or Epiphany. Another characteristic element of these markets is the shape of the stalls, imitating small mountain chalets and built out of wood. You will find them in Austria and Germany too, but a unique feature of their Italian counterparts is that they often take place in ancient towns with narrow and winding streets. In these cases the stalls occupy every available court, passage and niche, turning the experience of visiting them into a veritable treasure hunt. Talking about treasures, the sort of items Christmas markets are famous for is mostly food – local, organic and traditional in particular. Cheeses, jams and marmalades, wines and charcuteries usually have a strong presence. Typical treats you don’t want to miss are apple fritters, vin brulé (mulled wine), carne salada (a type of cured cold cut), zelten (sweet bread with nuts), strudel and roasted chestnuts. The biggest markets tend to attract sellers from faraway regions too: the Milano Christmas market, right all around the Duomo cathedral, for example, is a wonderful occasion to stock up with quality delicacies from all over the country, including Sicily and Sardinia.

Christmas markets frequently feature live music, from traditional carols to rather high-profile acts. A further interesting attraction is often represented by the presepe vivente (living nativity scene) or the religious parade celebrating the coming Christmas, that in some cases may count hundreds of participants wearing beautiful robes and costumes.

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